When Michael J. Fox moved to the U.S. from his native Canada about 40 years ago all he was thinking about was being an actor and landing, at the very least, some commercial work.
He booked a McDonald’s commercial in 1980. He eventually shot to fame as Alex P. Keaton on TV’s “Family Ties” and became a box office draw with films like “Back to the Future.” In his four decades in show business, Fox has earned five Emmys, two Golden Globes and two SAG Awards.
But in 1991, at age 29, he was told he had Parkinson’s disease. Two years after going public with his diagnosis, he launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to help fund research for therapies and cures. The organization has since raised more than $1 billion.
On Oct. 23, Fox will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the foundation with his annual fundraising gala A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s. The milestone event was originally slated for last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Hosted by Denis Leary, the evening will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City with a lineup that includes Mike Birbiglia, Michelle Buteau, Lisa Fischer, Brad Paisley and Sting. “All I wanted to do was book that McDonalds commercial,” the now 60-year-old Fox recalls about his early days in Hollywood. “I didn’t know I’d be trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s.”
While a cure may not be around the corner, Fox tells me the foundation has had a direct hand in developing several therapies. “They are therapies that have made life a lot better for a lot of people,” he says. “I enjoy life more. I’m more comfortable in my skin than I was 20 years ago. I can sit down and be calm. I couldn’t do that 25 years ago. That’s the medications, the drug cocktails and therapies that we’ve been a part of.”
The organization has also improved communication between patients and the medical and academic communities. Fox credits much of success to foundation CEO and co-founder Deborah W. Brooks. “She’s just magic,” he says.
Fox is hopeful that biomarkers will be the next big step in treating and possibly preventing the disease. “If we can find ways to identify the condition before it’s evident, if we could take a piece of hair and find it, then we could treat it prophylactically and then maybe you don’t get it,” he says. “What I am most proud of his the way we have galvanized this community. We can get stuff done.
“I just want to get this done,” he says about finding a cure. “I’m committed to this. I won’t stop until it happens.”
When I spoke to Fox, he was getting ready to travel to Las Vegas to attend the Tyson Fury/Deontay Wilder boxing match. Then he was off to Canada to visit his 92-year-old mom for the first time since the pandemic. “I feel great,” Fox says. “I love life. It’s great to be a part of something so important substantial.”